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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Frank Merriwell's Endurance » CHAPTER IV DARLETON’S CHALLENGE.
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CHAPTER IV DARLETON’S CHALLENGE.
It was the night of the “finals” at the Midwestern, and the clubrooms were thronged. Frank and all his friends were there. Morton had introduced them to many well-known young men of the prosperous Nebraska city, and they were being made to feel quite at home.

Much of the general conversation concerned the coming bouts. Opinions were freely expressed as to the abilities and merits of different contestants and there was much good-natured argument and banter.

There was also not a little quiet betting.

In one of the big main rooms of the club, Merry met three Yale men, who expressed their delight at seeing him there. While he was talking with them Fran?ois L’Estrange came up. The Frenchman knew them also, and he paused to shake hands all round.

“What’s the matter, L’Estrange?” asked one. “You seem rather downcast and troubled over something.”

The fencing master shrugged his shoulders.

“Eet is unfortunate,” he declared. “I haf to geef you ze information zat there will be no fencing zis night.”

“Why, how is that?” they exclaimed.

“Meestare Marlowe, who was to meet Meestare Darleton, ees not here.”

“Not here?”

“No.”

“Where is he?”

“He haf sent ze word zat he is very ill.”

“Cold feet!” cried one of the gentlemen. “That’s what’s the matter! Marlowe squeals!”

“Sure thing!” agreed another. “It’s a shame, but he has made a clean backdown.”

“He was all right last night. I saw him then,” put in the third gentleman.

“Eet is very strange,” said L’Estrange regretfully. “I understand eet not why he should haf ze cold feet and be ill. I suppose ze cold feet ees unpleasant, but zey should not make him squeal.”

“What we mean,” explained the first gentleman, “is that he is afraid to meet Darleton. He has defeated every opponent in the contests, and it has been his boast that he would defeat Darleton. His nerve failed him.”

“Eet ruin ze sport for zis night,” declared the fencing master. “Zere ees no one who is for Meestare Darleton ze efen match, so zere will be no fencing.”

At this point Darleton himself, accompanied as usual by his chum, Grant Hardy, came pushing through the throng, espied L’Estrange and hurried up.

“I’ve been looking for you, professor!” he exclaimed. “What’s this about Marlowe? Is it true that he has quit?”

“Eet is true.”

“Well, that’s just about the sort I took him to be!” cried Darleton angrily. “He’s a great case of bluff! He’s a bag of wind! He’s a quitter! He knew I’d defeat him. Now, what are we going to do?”

“Zere is nothing we can do,” answered the fencing master regretfully.

“And our go was to be the feature to-night. Every one will be disappointed. It’s a shame. Besides that, Marlowe had no right not to give me a chance to show him up. I meant to put it all over him, the slob!”

Darleton’s chagrin over his lost opportunity to “put it all over” the other fellow seemed to lead him into a complete loss of temper, and he indulged in language which on any occasion he would have condemned in another.

Suddenly his eyes fell on Frank Merriwell, and a peculiar expression came to his face.

“Why, here is the great athlete who fancies he is something of a fencer,” he said. “Good evening, Mr. Merriwell. I suppose you came to see me outpoint Marlowe? Well, you will be disappointed, I regret to say.”

Hodge was near, and the words and manner of Darleton had caused him to bridle until he was on the point of exploding.

“I regret very much,” said Merry quietly, “that we shall not have the pleasure of witnessing the fencing bout between you and Mr. Marlowe, sir.”

He was calm, polite, and reserved.

L’Estrange spoke up:

“I suppose we might geef ze exhibition ourselves, Meestare Darleton,” he said. “Zat might please ze spectators bettaire than nothing.”

“But it would not be like a bout in which there was an element of uncertainty. Every one would know you could defeat me easily if you cared to. If I counted on you I’d win no credit, for they would say you permitted me to do it.”

The desire of the fellow for applause and his thirst to display his skill by defeating some one was all too evident.

Suddenly he turned sharply to again face Frank.

“How about you?” he asked.

Merry lifted his eyebrows.

Hodge felt a tingling, for he realized that an open challenge was coming.

“About me?” repeated Frank questioningly.

“Yes, how about you? You think you can fence.”

“I have fenced—a little.”

“I was told to-day that you are a champion at everything you undertake. That’s ridiculous if you undertake many things. You have undertaken fencing. Well, I’d like to convince some people that there is one thing at which you are not much of a champion.”

“Would you?” asked Merry, smiling pleasantly.

“Indeed I would. The crowd wants to see a fencing bout to-night. Marlowe has taken water. He isn’t here. You are here. Of course we can’t fence for honors in the series, as you have not been engaged in previous contests. All the same, we can give an exhibition go. There will be an element of uncertainty about it. What do you say?”

“Why, I don’t know——” came slowly from Merry, as if he hesitated over it.

“Oh, if you’re afraid,” sneered Darleton—“if you haven’t the nerve, that’s different.”

A strange, smothered growl was choked back in the throat of Bart Hodge.

“I don’t believe I am afraid of you,” said Frank, with the same deliberate manner. “I was thinking that such an affair would be quite irregular if interpolated with the finals.”

“Don’t worry about that. If you are willing to meet me, I’ll fix it.”

“Of course I’m willing, but——”

“That settles it!” cried Darleton triumphantly. “You hear him, gentlemen. He’s ready to fence me. He can’t back out.”

“As if he would want to back out!” muttered Bart Hodge softly. “You’ll get all you’re looking for to-night, Mr. Darleton.”


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